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Top 6 Workplace Issues Facing Remote and Hybrid Workers

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Dan Matthews, Author

The world of work has changed dramatically in recent years, and the pandemic only accelerated a shift that was already well underway. Today, millions of Americans find themselves working remotely at least some of the time.

Remote and hybrid work models offer many benefits to employees. Parents and caregivers may not need to worry about finding or funding elder care or childcare. Staff doesn’t have to incur the food and fuel costs of working in the physical office. Employers enjoy reduced overhead and a truly globalized talent pool.

For all its advantages, however, there are several issues of which remote and hybrid workers should be aware.

The Risk of Loneliness, Isolation, and Burnout

Despite the convenience of remote work, there can be a psychological toll. Employees may feel lonely and isolated when working from home because they don’t have the level of personal interaction with their colleagues to which they may have grown accustomed.

In addition, employees are likely to experience higher levels of stress and a greater risk of remote burnout because, ultimately, when you work from home, you never really get to leave your office. 

This means that remote and hybrid workers must prioritize self-care, including establishing firm boundaries around their work hours. Remote workers must commit to turning off their phones and computers and disconnecting from work when they’re officially off the clock.

At the same time, it’s also imperative for those who work from home to enjoy frequent social activities with colleagues, whether through a weekly online game night or a bi-monthly dinner out. Employers should support employees’ mental health by offering up social activities. However, you may need to take the initiative to increase your socialization time.

Digital Privacy

Digital privacy is a concern for any business, but it’s particularly important for employees who are working from home. Cyberthreats, from phishing scams to malware attacks, are a constant threat. Employees may also be concerned with the amount of access their employer has to track remote-work activity. Employees need support in ensuring the security of their systems and personal information when working from home.

For this reason, employers should equip work-from-home staff with the systems they need to protect their own data and that of the company, including VPNs, antivirus software, password-protected routers, and firewalls. You may also want to use a webcam cover to prevent camera hacks. Also, make sure you have a solid understanding of how your employer intends to track your work-related behavior.

Communication and Collaboration

Another significant issue remote workers can face is problems with communication and collaboration. Your staff can’t just walk to the next cubicle or knock on the manager’s door to ask a question or get a status update. 

This can lead to significant delays in workflow if the employee has to jump on the phone to try to reach the person they need to speak to or track down the document they need to complete a project. In addition, without a clear plan for ensuring that all employees are up-to-date on project statuses, home-based workers may find themselves doing redundant work or using outdated processes. 

For this reason, remote workers must have the tools they need to remain in constant communication with their colleagues. This might include internal instant messaging platforms, such as Slack; project management tools, such as Asana; and document sharing tools, such as Google Docs. It’s also helpful to use visual aids, such as a flowchart, to help overcome problems associated with communication and collaboration in remote and hybrid environments. Regardless of what tool you choose, everyone in the company should have frequent, unrestricted access.

Difficulty Unionizing

When you’re working from home, you can feel like you’re on your own. That can make it hard to navigate workplace challenges, particularly when it comes to the need for collective action. The good news, though, is that momentum for the capacity of remote workers to unionize appears to be growing. The bad news, however, is that traditional ways of organizing are often inaccessible to remote workers, placing the onus on employees and unions to discover innovative strategies for integrating work-from-home employees.

Restlessness, Distraction, and Lack of Focus

Working from home is often a lot different than working in an office. This is especially true if you have children or pets at home. Many remote workers report feeling restless, distracted, and unfocused when trying to work remotely. It’s possible to overcome the challenges of remote-work distractions, however.

Try creating a designated work space — ideally a room with a door you can close during your work hours. You will also need to establish clear guidelines for family and friends as to when you will be working and unavailable for personal time.

Tech Issues

Some remote or hybrid workers may feel anxious about being able to use work-from-home technology effectively. For instance, newly remote workers may find themselves needing to install and use more advanced systems than they’ve ever deployed in their homes, from printers and copiers to routers and VPNs.

Employers are obligated to help set their remote workers up for success not only by providing them with the tools they need to do their work effectively but by providing them with the training and support they need to install and use them.

The Takeaway

Remote and hybrid work models can be ideal, particularly for employees who are also caregivers, have medical conditions, or live in remote areas. However, those who are working from home often face an array of challenges they may not have anticipated. Workers and employers alike must take a proactive stance toward understanding and remediating these issues to support employee performance and well-being.

This blog is printed with permission.

About the Author: Dan Matthews is a writer, content consultant, and conservationist. While Dan writes on a variety of topics, he loves to focus on the topics that look inward on mankind that help to make the surrounding world a better place to reside.


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Viewpoint: The NLRB is Underfunded and Understaffed—And That’s a Big Threat to the Current Organizing Wave

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Gay Semel

The budget for the National Labor Relations Board for fiscal year 2022 was $274 million, which might sound like a lot of money. But it is the same amount as the Board’s budget for Trump-era fiscal years 2021 and 2020, and that is a problem.

In fact, the NLRB has not had an increase in funding since 2014, the year that the Republicans took control of Congress during the Obama administration and reignited their decades-old campaign to deep-six workers’ rights to unionize.

No increase “means a cut to the agency’s funds, due to inflation and other factors,” explains Burt Pearlstone, president of the NLRBU, the union representing workers at the agency.

The Biden administration had sought a 10 percent funding increase for the NLRB this year. But Republicans dug in to oppose an increase, claiming the cost was too high. Privately many were simply doing the bidding of their corporate backers to further weaken an agency already in trouble. When the overall budget was finally passed in March, the administration had accepted flat funding.

HOLLOWED OUT, ON PURPOSE
A goal of the Trump administration, and the Republican Party generally, has been to decimate what they refer to as the “administrative state.” During the Trump years, agency heads were appointed to hollow out federal agencies from within. At the NLRB, Trump named Peter Robb, a management lawyer famous for breaking the strike of air traffic controllers under Reagan, as General Counsel.

Robb set out to weaken the agency by overturning pro-union case law and reducing agency staff, but many of his initiatives were stymied.

Case law at the Board changes slowly. Before a General Counsel can put into place changes that he or she seeks, the right case must be filed with the agency; the case must be tried before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) and then the Board in Washington, D.C.

Some of Robb’s initiatives were stopped by ALJs; for others, he did not find the appropriate case. Had Trump won a second term and Robb stayed in power, the story would be quite different.

Nonetheless, Robb was able to do significant damage to the agency. During his reign, jobs were left vacant across the country. There is always a certain amount of turnover, as staff move on to other jobs; those jobs were not backfilled during Robb’s tenure. In 2018 he offered buyouts, enticing additional staff to leave, and those jobs also were not backfilled.

The NLRB even failed to spend its budget in 2018 and 2019, prompting an investigation by the Board’s Inspector General. Underspending violates the laws establishing Congress’s spending authority (as does overspending).

As the NLRB Regions lost people, the workload increased significantly for those still working at the agency. In 2021, when President Biden took office, there already was a significant backlog of trials waiting to be scheduled. Those that were scheduled took longer and longer to get before an ALJ.

A NEW SHERIFF
To his credit, Biden took the unprecedented action of firing Robb on his first day in office. Shortly after, he appointed Jennifer Abruzzo as the agency’s General Counsel.

Abruzzo had worked at the NLRB in various capacities, including as Assistant General Counsel, for 23 years. When Trump appointees took over the agency, she left and went to work for the Communications Workers (CWA).

Abruzzo knows the agency inside and out. She wants to enforce the original intent of the National Labor Relations Act: to level the playing field between workers and employees, and to protect the rights of working people collectively seeking to better their lives.

Almost immediately, Abruzzo issued memos alerting the agency of cases and practices she would like to see revisited and revised. She called for reinstating the Joy Silk standard (where the Board would require an employer to recognize the union once a majority of workers had signed union authorization cards), increasing penalties on law-breaking employers, declaring mandatory anti-union meetings unlawful, and other pro-worker initiatives. The labor movement took notice.

Biden also appointed two union-side labor lawyers to fill existing vacancies on the five-person Board: Gwynne Wilcox and David Prouty. The majority of Board members are now Democratic appointees. Both Wilcox and Prouty have fought in the trenches for years on behalf of workers and unions and understand how NLRB case law and procedures can be used to help workers or to hinder them.

HAMSTRUNG BY UNDERSTAFFING
The new appointments to the Board and the new General Counsel are exciting news—and not a moment too soon. Union organizing is way up. Workers across the country are taking on big corporations like Starbucks, Amazon, and Trader Joe’s, as well as seeking to unionize in unexpected places—comics, gaming, tech.

Filings at the NLRB for union elections from October 2021 to March 2022 were up 57 percent compared to the same period a year earlier. In response, employer lawbreaking is increasing. Unfair labor practice charges against employers are up 14 percent for the same period.

All the pieces are in place for positive developments at the NLRB, except for one thing—there are fewer people to do the work.

The Republican attack on the agency, accelerated under Robb, is being felt now. Between 2012 and 2022, the field staff at the agency was reduced by more than 40 percent.

Field staff are the lawyers and examiners who handle union elections, investigate cases, and prosecute unfair labor practices, as well as the administrative professionals who support this work. At the Brooklyn Region, which ran the elections in Staten Island at Amazon, the staff is down 40 percent since 2012.

Everything now takes longer. Delay favors the employer. Workers begin to feel that they can’t win and give up or move on.

DEATH BY DELAY
That is Amazon’s goal in Staten Island. The company filed 25 objections to the election at the JFK8 warehouse. Along with claiming objectionable behavior by the Amazon Labor Union, Amazon alleges that the Brooklyn Region of the NLRB delayed the investigation of unfair labor practice charges, instead of dismissing them, creating the impression that Amazon violated the law affecting the vote.

Even though the Brooklyn Region received assistance from field staff at other Regions to help with the Staten Island vote, Amazon claims that the agency mishandled the election by providing insufficient staff for the election. Thus, Amazon is claiming that the underfunding of the agency is cause for overturning the vote.

Amazon’s claims of violations on the part of the Brooklyn Region also caused the hearing to be moved to the Region in Phoenix, Arizona, to avoid a conflict of interest. This, too, created delay. The hearing in Phoenix did not begin until June 13, months after the actual vote.

The objections hearing alone may take months, and then there will be many more months before the briefs are filed and a decision rendered. Other legal delaying tactics will follow.

Dragging things out is Amazon’s goal; understaffing aids that goal.

Even if the agency adds staff to resolve issues at Amazon (which it has done), fewer field staffers are available to handle the increased caseload involving workers and unions at other companies.

Workers at the Brooklyn Region feel overwhelmed by the workload. Many have begun talking about leaving. The Brooklyn chapter of the NLRBU has met with Abruzzo seeking relief.

“Brooklyn is not the only Region feeling overwhelmed by the workload,” says Pearlstone. He hears this from workers at NLRB Regions across the country. “The only solution is more money to hire more people.”

BIDEN MUST FIX THIS
President Biden claims to be pro-worker and pro-union. He has supported the PRO Act, recommended greater worker rights in the federal government, issued a pro-worker message to employees at Amazon’s Alabama warehouse, and jubilantly told Amazon “Here we come!” after the first union win in Staten Island. And he has nominated a General Counsel and new Board members that care about enforcing the National Labor Relations Act.

But without sufficient funding for the NLRB, all of Biden’s statements could end up being little more than hollow promises.

Unions and labor activists need to demand that the Biden administration find additional resources for the NLRB now. Adequate funding for the agency has got to be a major issue for the labor movement—or else the wave of new organizing that has ignited our imaginations and revived an understanding of the importance of labor may wither away.

Gay Semel is a retired union-side labor lawyer. She was District Counsel to District 1 of the Communications Workers in New York for more than 30 years. She also worked as a field attorney at Region 2 of the NLRB in Manhattan for two years. She is currently working on a book about a lengthy battle to get and keep a union at Brooklyn Cablevision.

This blog originally appeared at LaborNotes on July 6, 2022. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Gay Semel is a retired union-side labor lawyer. She was District Counsel to District 1 of the Communications Workers in New York for more than 30 years. She also worked as a field attorney at Region 2 of the NLRB in Manhattan for two years.


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Women Are Taking Over the U.S. Labor Movement

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Chabeli Carrazana

As she considered striking at the grocery store where she had worked for a decade, the dozens of moments that had pushed Ashley Manning to that point flooded back. 

She vividly recalled the indignities she endured throughout the pandemic, starting with child care. When schools shut down, no one could watch her 12-year-old daughter. She wouldn’t allow her elderly grandmother, Ruby, to do it, fearing she would get sick. And her store, a Ralphs in San Pedro, California, where she is the manager of the floral department, refused to work with her schedule, she said. 

No one can cover you, she said they told her. Your contract is for six days a week, we need you six days a week.

Unable to work and care for her daughter, she burned through three months of unpaid leave at the end of 2020 as she waited for in-person school to resume. When she came back, the store was in disarray. Managers were not enforcing mask mandates or limits on the number of people in the store, she said. Customers were spitting at employees. There were no plexiglass barriers up.

By then, Manning’s grandmother had started caring for her daughter — they were out of options, schools were still closed and Manning had no leave left to take. So when one of them got COVID-19 in the summer of 2021 — they still aren’t sure who got it first — Manning’s entire family got sick. Manning was hospitalized for two days, her mother for two weeks, her grandmother for three weeks. Her daughter got sick, too. 

“The only thing that [work] could do while I was gone was keep calling me: ?‘What day are you coming back to work?’” said Manning, 32.  “It wasn’t, ‘Are you feeling good’ It wasn’t, ‘Do you feel better?’ It wasn’t, ‘We can make adjustments.’ It wasn’t any of those things.” 

On August 13, Manning’s grandmother died alone in the intensive care unit at a hospital in Los Angeles, two days before Manning’s birthday. No family or friends were able to see her before she passed. 

“Until this day, it could be my fault that she’s not here,” Manning said. “I look at it that way because I was the one who was working at the grocery store.” 

Manning still carried that wound with her when she considered striking against Kroger, Ralphs’ parent company. The stress of her grandmother’s death and everything that came before it led Manning to take short-term disability from work for five months. When she returned early this year, negotiations between the union that represents her and 47,000 workers at several other Kroger-owned grocery stores in Southern and Central California were beginning to deteriorate. Their contract was up and both parties were far apart in the negotiations, which included demands for raises to account for cost of living and inflation increases over the last three years.

Kroger’s first offer: a 60 cent hourly raise.

By late March, 95 percent of workers who voted agreed to authorize a strike, Manning among them. Most of those workers were women, many of them women of color or single mothers like Manning, who were entering into the fight with their employer fueled by two years of turmoil that hit them — and, critically, their families — the hardest. 

Over the course of the pandemic, the majority of essential workers were women. The majority of those who lost their jobs in the pandemic were women. The majority of those who faced unstable care situations for their children and their loved ones were women. 

And now the majority of those organizing their workplaces are women. 

Kroger workers are part of a surge in organizing led by women, women of color and low-wage workers impelled by this once-in-a-century pandemic. Many said they feel the pandemic has unmasked the hypocrisy of some employers — they were “essential” workers until their employers stopped offering protections on the job, good pay and commensurate benefits.

Among them, a deep recalibration is happening, dredging up questions about why they work, for whom, and how that work serves them and their families. For many it’s the chance to define the future of work. 

“Most women are carrying their families on their backs,” Manning said. “We feel disposable. Everybody is enraged.” 

Over the past decade, about 60 percent of newly organizing workers have been women. Women now are also the faces of some of the largest labor movements in years, including the baristas who have unionized over a dozen Starbucks since late 2021, the bakery workers who recently went on strike for four months to secure their first union contract, the call center workers — mostly women of color — who went on strike in Mississippi, and the 17,000 Etsy sellers who went on strike last month to combat transaction fee increases.

All of those movements, most of them happening in companies and even industries for the first time, are ending a disparity that has long existed between men and women in union organization. In 2021, the gender gap in union representation reached its narrowest point since the data started being tracked in the early 1980s by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. About 10.6 percent of men are members of a union, compared to 9.9 percent of women; in 1983, the first year data was available, it was 24.7 percent of men and 14.6 percent of women. (BLS does not collect data on nonbinary people.) 

For women, unions can be a pathway to equal pay. Studies have found that unionization tends to benefit women more than men, eliminating factors that fuel pay disparity such as secrecy around salaries and societal barriers that discourage women from negotiating pay and benefits.

While union membership has waned in recent decades and was slightly down in 2021 compared to 2020, moments of upheaval have in the past turned into opportunities for women to organize. Take the suffrage movement and the Triangle Shirtwaist fire that killed 146 largely young immigrant women in New York in 1911, the wave of women entering the workforce during and after World War II, and the women’s liberation movement in the late 1960s and ?‘70s that helped women join the workforce en masse. Each of those moments changed the course of women’s involvement in the workforce, helping to pass the 19th Amendmentincrease union membership and pass equal pay legislation.

The pandemic, which set off the first women’s recession, might be that next catalyst, said Jennifer Sherer, the senior state policy coordinator at the Economic Policy Institute, a progressive think tank. 

“It feels like we are living through potentially another one of those moments, where the public and media are awake at a different level right now because of the activity in multiple sectors,” Sherer said. 

The shift happening now comes along with a critical change in leadership at the nation’s major unions. After the death of former AFL-CIO president and prominent national union leader Richard Trumka in 2021, longtime labor leader Liz Shuler took over as president?—?marking the first time a woman took the helm of the largest and most powerful federation of labor unions in the country. 

“As work is changing, as the workforce is changing, we are going to be changing with it,” Shuler told The 19th. ?“Coming out of COVID-19, work is looking differently. That’s why the labor movement is so sorely needed: to show workers that they have a voice and a place in that change.”

The pandemic was a conduit, she said: It allowed women workers to bring up issues that had long plagued them — caregiving, family, health — that had long been treated as niche topics. 

“This has been building for a long time, and the pandemic really brought to the surface all of the issues that women have been fighting for and advocating for for a long time,” Shuler said. 

Mary Kay Henry, who in 2010 became the first woman to head the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) — the second-largest industry union after the Education Association of the United States — said this moment feels like a turning point. It gets at the very core of the role women play in communities, families and the workplace. 

“Women leaders in the worksite and of organizations like mine are leading a fundamental reorganization of power that isn’t just about our workplace, but is about our communities. And for us, it’s reflected in the demand to be respected, protected and paid,” said Henry, who still runs SEIU.

Taken in the broader context of the rise of the #MeToo movement, the dismantling of care and the ping ponging value of the essential workforce, the reasons for organizing are more gendered now, said Sarita Gupta, co-author of “The Future We Need: Organizing for Democracy in the Twenty-First Century.” 

“In years past, issues like sexual harassment — that’s not in the bargaining agreement,” Gupta said. “How we think about these movements is not to the side of what a worker movement is, but actually integrated into the worker movement.”

Kathy Finn, the secretary-treasurer of the union representing the Kroger workers in California, has been organizing workers long enough to remember when they held what was then the longest grocery store strike in history, a four-and-a-half-month long ordeal from 2003 to 2004. Then, a grocery store job used to be a career that could support a family, Finn said. Over the past several decades, those jobs have increasingly become part-time positions with lower pay and limited benefits, a result of cost-cutting measures driven by competition, automation and decreased union participation.

Now, many moms — particularly single moms — at grocery stores feel like their employers are actively working against their needs as parents. The majority of the union’s bargaining committee is women for the first time. 

“It definitely feels very different right now,” Finn said. 

This is partly because low-income workers, mostly women, have more power to speak up about the support they need from employers. When Manning was away from work after her grandmother’s death, the tenor of the phone calls she received from her bosses had changed from when she was sick last year, she said. They couldn’t find anyone qualified to fill her spot. 

When are you coming back, she said they’d ask. We know your grandmother took care of your daughter, we can work with your schedule. We can make adjustments, they said. 

Manning returned to Ralphs because she didn’t have the option not to, but something snapped into focus for her. Her value, she said, felt conditional. 

As she voted to strike, Manning thought of her grandmother, who never once made her question her self-worth. When Manning tried to start her own floral business, it was her grandmother who encouraged her to pursue it, who got a shed built in her backyard to house Manning’s dream. 

“I feel like she’s on board with me, this is where you need to be,” Manning said. 

A couple weeks after the vote, Manning, who is on the bargaining committee, was able to help secure a historic agreement that increases hours for part-time employers, improves pension benefits and creates health and safety councils at each store — most of the demands they had been seeking. 

The wage increase won’t be cents. It’ll be $4.25 an hour. 

This reckoning was forged on the shop floor, through conversations between women in workplaces that once didn’t welcome them at all. 

In the 1990s, when women’s labor force participation was peaking in the United States — it has stalled since — women were joining industries long dominated by men. Unionization for a lot of women meant organizing to secure basic rights. Sanchioni Butler, who at the time worked at a Ford plant in Carrollton, Texas, recalled the moment when the few women at the auto plant joined together to help improve the conditions of the women’s bathroom so they would have somewhere to sit during breaks or during their menstrual cycles. 

“We got improvements by sticking together,” Butler said in “The Future We Need: Organizing for Democracy in the Twenty-First Century.” “…When we fought for a shower and couch in the women’s bathroom, that was our women’s movement.”

It seemed then like the only way to improve conditions in a vacuum of federal policy. The Paycheck Fairness Act, for example, which aims to close loopholes in pay discrimination laws, was first proposed around the time Butler was fighting for a couch in the women’s bathroom. It still has not passed.

“If we’re trying to strengthen and improve women’s position in the workforce, the idea of allowing and creating platforms for women to be able to negotiate their conditions, both through a union as well as through community-based, worker-led standards boards, for some of these essential sectors — that’s a start,” said Erica Smiley, co-author of “The Future We Need.” 

That nascent start has blossomed into more. In 2011, The New York Times ran “Redefining the Union Boss,” a piece about the women, including SEIU’s Henry, who were heading up major unions and rekindling a hope that their leadership could drive a comeback in unionization after years of reduced membership. 

In the decade since, the number of women represented by a union started rising again, peaking in 2015. And the numbers don’t break out evenly across race. Union membership has been rising steadily for Latinas, the group with the largest gender pay gap in the country, while it’s leveled out or decreased for other groups. Since 2010, the number of Latinas represented by unions has risen by 31 percent. But by 2021, rates across the board were back near where they were in 2011. 

Still, those numbers mask the amount of organization in 2021, which may not be reflected in statistics for several years. It often takes years to negotiate a union contract and get counted under those figures, and the upswell in organizing now is happening in workplaces that are at the very beginning of that process, workplaces that likely spent a part of 2021 disaggregated and diffuse. 

“People are having to overcome a set of obstacles in their daily lives like never before. They’ve lost loved ones and haven’t been able to properly bury them or grieve them because of the COVID pandemic,” Henry said. “They are dealing with staffing shortages and lack of health and safety, but are persevering and organizing on a scale that I’ve never seen before.” 

Those obstacles have led people to demand responses from companies that actually reach down to the lowest wage workers, not just talk about them, said Gupta, who is also the vice president of U.S. programs at the Ford Foundation. 

“These strikes matter because they are just saying, ‘You can’t just talk about [diversity, equity and inclusion] in your corporate boardroom. What are the other ways you are going to support my ability to stay in the labor force?’” Gupta said. 

Some employers are hearing that message, said Maria Colacurcio, the CEO of Syndio Systems, a platform that works with more than 200 companies, including 10 percent of the Fortune 200, to identify racial and gender pay gaps and improve pay bands and benefits for employees. 

Those conversations have changed, she said. Three years ago “they were like, ‘I’m just here to reduce my risk of a pay equity class action.’ Now 99 percent of our customers are looking at some racial comparison. And I really do think it’s because of the pressure that’s come out of this movement from employees around: This isn’t a gender problem. This is workplace equity, without regard to gender, race, ethnicity, disability, age.” 

High-profile union drives, like the one led by Starbucks workers, are forcing employers to think more proactively about what they can offer workers beyond higher pay. 

“It’s not a flash in the pan — there are also things getting embedded that are going to force it to be long-term,” Colacurcio said. “It’s really difficult to undo once you’ve opened the windows.” 

And yet, being a woman leader in a movement that has rarely allowed women to lead, has dredged up for many why this has taken so long. 

Kim Cordova, the first woman president of the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 7 in Colorado, saw it first hand this year when she faced negotiators on behalf of Kroger, the parent company of 8,000 grocery store employees in Boulder, Parker and the Denver area her union represents. It was her fight in Colorado that set the stage for what the California workers were recently able to do.

But those negotiations were dripping with gendered vitriol. 

She was that woman to them.

“It’s tough being a union president but it’s tougher being a female president,” Cordova said. “You have to speak louder than everybody in the room, you have to earn your respect that way — you have to fight for it. I’m a double whammy: I’m Latina and I’m a female.”

The corporate negotiators went over her head, she said, reaching out to male lawyers instead of her during the negotiations. 

“I am the chief spokesperson, I am the negotiator. I had to send a letter saying, ‘You need to send your questions to me,’” Cordova said. 

The fight led to a 10-day strike in the January cold, after which workers secured hourly raises as high as $5.99, unheard of, she said. “We’ve seen raises to the right of the decimal point, cents not dollars.” The new agreement also addressed the two-tier pay structure that led the men who dominated meat departments to earn more than the women in the lower-paid grocery jobs.

Cordova said the movement of the past three years has been “a career-defining moment” for her after 37 years with a union. 

It feels fierce enough to last. 

“This is our year, this is our time,” Cordova said. “I don’t think they are going anywhere backward.” 

The Kroger strike in Colorado inspired the workers in California. Many of the problems are the same: stagnant wages, lax health and safety precautions, and people who feel like they have been pushed to the edge of what they can endure. 

In Beverly Hills, Pavilions grocery store cashier Christie Sasaki remembers how hard the strikes in 2003 and 2004 were, but it felt last month like there was no option left. She is often doing the job of two or more people. Her wages have maxed out at $22.50 an hour after 32 years at Pavilions. She has nothing saved for retirement and three quarters of her paycheck goes to her rent, a 2 bedroom apartment she shares with her teenage daughter and a roommate she took on to help offset the cost. 

“I would like one day to have the American dream — to be able to retire,” said Sasaki, 54. “After almost 33 years, I don’t think I can. It brings a tear to my eye because I would like to be able to go on vacation, I would like to go out to eat.” 

Her only opportunity, she said, is to get the best contract she can for herself and her colleagues. She spoke directly to Kroger’s representatives about those struggles in meetings earlier this year, surrounded for the first time by the women who have worked with her shoulder-to-shoulder.

“During the bargaining committee, my entire table,” she said, “is female.” 

This story was originally published by The 19th on July 5th, 2022. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Chabeli Carrazana is an Economy Reporter at The 19th.


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Limiting Non-Compete Agreements is Key to a Just Recovery

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Najah Farley

As tens of millions of workers—more than one-fifth of the U.S. workforce—were losing their jobs at the start of the pandemic, worker advocates sounded another important alarm: In many states, being laid off would not release workers from “non-compete” agreements they had signed with their employers, which would restrict what future job offers they could accept.

The prospect that employers could hamper workers in their return to work by using non-competes seemed like a far-off possibility in March 2020. But now, with many seeking to return to work, the possibility of workers being bound by past non-compete agreements or agreeing to new ones is deeply concerning. Non-competes limit workers’ power and autonomy and exacerbate existing inequities that disproportionately harm workers of color.

What Are Non-Competes?
Non-competes are contracts, signed by employees when they accept a job, that restrict them from taking a job in the same industry for a set period of time after they leave their position. Restrictions may be defined by industry or geography, and some may list specific rival competitor companies that employees are prohibited from joining. Research suggests that nearly one in five U.S. workers is currently bound by a non-compete. The types of workers bound range from chief executive officers to security guards to sandwich makers, as in the infamous Jimmy John’s case that first brought this issue to the fore.

Nearly one in five U.S. workers—from CEOs to security guards to sandwich makers—is currently bound by a non-compete.

Employers usually present non-compete provisions in a “take it or leave it” fashion. They may require workers to sit out of the labor market for a year or even longer. Not surprisingly, non-competes have been shown to depress wages by reducing competition. This is what economists refer to as the problem of monopsony, where employers have greater market power and are able to continue to offer lower wages due to lack of competition.

Non-competes may exacerbate the wage gap that workers of color face.

Push for State Reforms
Many legislatures are successfully taking on the challenge of non-compete reform. New laws have been passed or are advancing in several states. Bills were introduced in West Virginia, Minnesota, Connecticut, Colorado, New York, and Iowa. In New York, Governor Kathy Hochul included a non-compete provision in her budget proposal, and the State Senate also introduced a bill. Both the West Virginia and Iowa bills proposed banning non-competes for workers in low-wage industries.

Many legislatures are successfully taking on the challenge of non-compete reform.

The Minnesota non-compete proposal would limit agreements to an annual salary equal to the median family income and also provide for “garden leave”, i.e., an employer would have to pay 50 percent of the employee’s highest annual base salary during the restricted period. Connecticut’s bill, had it passed, would have set the non-compete threshold close to $100k. Colorado’s bill would be an important improvement of the state’s previous non-compete law. Although many legislative sessions ended without passing the non-compete laws under consideration, the bills in New Jersey, New York, and Colorado are still being considered.

Movement Nationally
President Biden’s initiative to improve competition through his Executive Order on Competition, released on July 9, 2021, has also helped fuel the push for these bills. As a result of this directive, federal agency work in the area has increased.

On March 7th, the Treasury Department, in partnership with the Labor Department, the Justice Department, and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), released a report on “The State of Labor Market Competition.” The report found that the lack of competition results in wage declines of between 15 and 25 percent. It also highlighted the power differential that exists between companies and workers, based on information asymmetry as well as labor market forces, that leads to employers exerting market power and offering lower wages and worse working conditions. Now that the FTC has a full complement of commissioners, advocates are pushing for the agency to pursue rulemaking in this area. The Open Markets Institute initially submitted a petition to the FTC in 2019, joined by 60 signatory organizations, including NELP.

Coercive waivers, such as non-disclosures, arbitration agreements, and non-competes, work together to reduce worker power.

Where We Go From Here
In the wake of the “Great Resignation,” management-side lawyers have become even more aggressive in their tactics to keep employees bound by these coercive agreements. In a recent blog post on a human resources site, management-side lawyers stated that they have seen an uptick in employers wanting to sue employees because of the talent shortage; they not only want to retain the employees but also prevent them from going elsewhere. Such articles highlight the abusive way in which non-compete agreements are used to block workers from going elsewhere to use their talents and skills.

In the wake of the “Great Resignation,” management-side lawyers have become more aggressive in their tactics to keep employees bound by coercive agreements.

State law advocacy will hopefully help level the playing field for workers seeking to be free from onerous non-compete agreements imposed by their employers, but advocates still have more to do.

While many states are moving in the right direction, federal legislative reform and rulemaking remain crucial.

The Workforce Mobility Act, sponsored by Senators Chris Murphy (D-CT) and Todd Young (R-IN), would eliminate non-competes for the majority of workers, keeping them only for workers involved in the sale of a business. This bipartisan bill would go a long way toward ensuring that workers can chart their own careers; it would take power away from employers that abuse the use of non-competes. A federal bill that bans non-competes for workers could, like Oregon’s non-compete law, have a positive impact on the wages of hourly workers. Now is the time to continue to push for broad non-compete reform, creating the just recovery that workers need.

This blog is a shortened version of one that originally appeared in full at NELP on May 19, 2022. Reprinted with permission.

About the author: Najah Farley is a senior staff attorney at NELP, who focuses on workplace standards and wages.


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Unionized nursing homes were safer in the pandemic, this week in the war on workers

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Laura Clawson

Unions have increasingly bargained for the common good in recent years, as when teachers negotiate lower class sizes and more school nurses or counselors, or nurses negotiate for improved staffing ratios so they can give every patient the attention they deserve.

Union opponents often try to claim that these are really self-interested measures that only benefit workers (as though there’s anything wrong with benefiting workers), not also students and patients. These are of course the same people who always come up with excuses for how larger classes and more patients per nurse are reasonable, as they are hostile not just to workers but to investments in the public good.

All of which is to set up why this study of resident mortality and worker infection rates in union versus nonunion nursing homes in 2020-2021 is interesting and important.

As the study, by Adam Dean, Jamie McCallum, Simeon Kimmel, and Atheendar Venkataramani notes, “nursing home residents have accounted for roughly one of every six COVID-19 deaths in the United States,” making nursing homes a major site of mortality.

So, how did union and nonunion nursing homes compare? After a lot of data and statistics, “we found that unions were associated with 10.8 percent lower resident COVID-19 mortality rates, as well as 6.8 percent lower worker COVID-19 infection rate.”

Imagine if 1 in 10 of the nursing home residents who died of COVID-19 … hadn’t.

Laura Clawson

This blog originally appeared at Daily Kos on May 14, 2022. Reprinted with permission.

About the author: Laura Clawson has been a Daily Kos contributing editor since December 2006. Full-time staff since 2011, currently assistant managing editor. 


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Rapid Grocery Delivery Service Buyk Accused of Wage Theft by Former Workers

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Amir Khafagy - Type Media Center

Before the Russian-funded delivery startup collapsed, Buyk sold itself as a way for workers to escape the gig economy. Former workers say it failed to deliver.

In early March, 28-year-old Michael Perez received an alarming email from one of his co-workers at Buyk, the Russian-funded, New York City-based ultra-fast grocery app.

Because of the severe sanctions against Russia, the letter announced, the company had lost access to its investors and was forced to furlough 98 percent of its workforce. For Perez, the letter was just one more disappointment in a long string he had experienced working for the company.

Prior to its abrupt closure, Buyk was one of the largest and most rapidly growing ultrafast grocery delivery apps in New York City, promising its customers deliveries in 15 minutes or less.

Three former Buyk workers said that the company delivered something else: wage theft and mistreatment. Two of the workers accused Buyk of misclassifying them as independent contractors instead of employees, stealing their tips, and failing to provide them pay stubs. The third accused the company of failing to pay his full wages and firing him when he complained.

Buyk’s PR representative, Tom Kiehn, and lawyer, Mark Lichtenstein, both declined to comment for this story.

Rise of an Industry

The pandemic has been a boon for ultrafast grocery delivery companies, which have exploded in number in New York City since 2021. Venture capitalists have showered billions on these startups, which promise to deliver everything from six-packs of beer to extra creamy cashew milk in 15 minutes or less.

When Buyk first entered the New York market, some observers raised questions about the viability of its business model, noting that the company relied on low-paid labor.

“A big challenge will be that it’s impossible to use such a cheap workforce in New York as they’re used to in Russia,” Boris Ovchinnikov, co-founder of the Russian research firm Data Insight, told Bloomberg.

Buyk promised that it would use a different model, investing deeply in labor development. Unlike Samokat and previous gig economy startups, which relied on contract workers, Buyk said it would hire full-time staffers and deliver them benefits like medical insurance, commuter compensation and a 401K plan.

Broken Promises

Perez first learned about Buyk last August, when he spotted an appealing online ad for bike couriers. The ad, placed by a company called Food Start, offered a flat rate of $17 per hour, flexible working hours and the opportunity to work from a single location.

Perez found the job more difficult than he expected. Management prioritized delivery speed over couriers’ safety, he said, and several of his co-workers were hit by cars as they were out making deliveries. Couriers were asked to deliver groceries that exceeded Buyk’s maximum order weight of 26 pounds, he added, which made it difficult for them to deliver the orders on time.

At the end of each week, Perez would text his manager with a timesheet showing his hours worked. According to a lawsuit Perez later filed against both companies, he routinely worked forty-five hours per week, but never received overtime pay. The lawsuit also alleges that Buyk improperly classified him as an independent contractor instead of an employee and illegally withheld his tips.

Regulating The Industry

The rapid growth of the ultra-fast delivery industry has led many small business owners and elected officials to fear that the industry could undercut the city’s bodegas and corner stores, the same way that Uber and Lyft devastated the yellow cab industry.

New York City Councilmember Gale Brewer has called for the city to investigate whether Buyk and other ultrafast delivery companies’ “dark stores” are violating zoning rules. She argues that since the stores are not actual stores but are mini-warehouses, they should not be located in commercially zoned districts.

Council member Christopher Marte recently announced his intention to introduce a bill to prevent grocery apps from advertising 15-minute delivery times, as well as to limit the weight of groceries workers have to deliver.

Upon hearing the allegations against Buyk, Marte stressed the importance of recognizing workers as employees of the companies they work for.

“We want to make sure their employers see them differently from gig workers because they’re employees, unlike Uber or Lyft workers that go to and from different points,” he said. “ They should be employees and have the benefits and protections employees have.” 

Now out of a job, Perez has found himself right back where he started. He still gets emotional when he reflects on how much he gave to Buyk and how little he has to show for it.

This post originally appeared at In These Times on May 11, 2022. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Amir Khafagy is a journalist, activist, organizer and performer. His work has been featured in CityLab, Jacobin, City Limits, The Indypendent, Counterpunch and The Hampton Institute. He is currently completing an MA in urban affairs at Queens College.


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Safer Surveillance: How Much Is Too Much?

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When we think of surveillance in a business, there is no doubt that it is a double edged sword. It can’t be denied that surveillance can be an important part of keeping workers safe and providing security for staff – not only against outsiders, but also from the potential actions of other members of the team, whether intentional or otherwise.

However, surveillance can also be used in an extremely negative way. Many workers see business surveillance as little more than an excuse to spy on staff. It has even been noticed that some organizations go beyond looking at employees’ work activities, to also view their personal accounts. 

“Despite it being around for a while, we have noticed an increased use of email, internet and telephone monitoring,” says HR specialist Vanessa Bell speaking with The HR Director “more employers are also taking it upon themselves to check in on employees’ social media platforms and regularly monitor the posts being uploaded”. 

The kind of creeping invasion of surveillance might all be fine in the hands of professionals with a desire to keep the business and its staff safe. But where do we draw the line between valuable security work to keep staff safe, and simply unnecessary snooping? Of course there has to be a balance, and the best way to understand where to find that balance is to understand the kind of things staff surveillance might be used to defend against. 

Insider attacks

It is unfortunately the case that insider attacks – those perpetrated by individuals working for an organization – are on the rise. In fact, recent statistics revealed that over 60% of data breaches come as a result of an insider attack. 

“As a business leader, the last thing you want is an attack from a user with existing access to your environment,” says M.K. Palmore speaking to Security Roundtable “it doesn’t really matter whether a breach is caused by malice, negligence or mistake. Insider threats are particularly pernicious because of the knowledge, access and information malicious insiders may possess, and because even individuals who are cybersecurity-aware can make inadvertent or careless errors.” 

It is naturally the case that one of the only ways to defend against these kinds of attacks are through closer monitoring of staff. However, this is not the only time that we see staff surveillance occurring. In some cases, the surveillance can occur in something of a test format. 

Penetration testing

The term ‘ethical hacking’ can be controversial – how can hacking ever be ‘ethical’? The truth is that ethical hacking can play an important role in keeping any business secure against cyberattacks. However, having it carried out can create a situation where staff feel that they are being spied upon.

Perhaps the most common form of ethical hacking is known as penetration testing. A penetration test is an assessment of a business’ current cybersecurity measures to check for potential vulnerabilities and weaknesses. These tests utilize “the tools, techniques and procedures used by genuine criminal hackers including phishing, SQL injection, brute force and deployment of custom malware.” 

Penetration testing can be extremely effective. But there has been some controversy around the use of elements such as fake phishing emails and ‘social engineering’ tactics. These are designed to replicate tactics used by criminals, but it functionally can involve the penetration testing conducting surveillance on staff without their knowledge. 

Invasion of privacy?

It is important to consider whether staff surveillance is necessary for the protection of the business and for members of staff themselves. To some, it seems less for their good and more like a simple invasion of privacy. It has been argued that with potential changes being made in the future for data privacy, this could have an impact on surveillance.

In Europe, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) was brought into effect, and there has been talk of similar legislation likely to become law in the US. Should this occur it could offer some protection for staff against some types of surveillance. 

What to do if your business surveillance is too much

If you feel that workplace surveillance is becoming a major issue, it is a good idea to take these concerns to management. Remember that it is often the case that these changes to monitoring are made with the thought in mind to help keep businesses and their staff more secure. It could well be the case that overzealous changes have been implemented without anyone thinking through the negative consequences for staff. 

Staff surveillance has huge advantages for both businesses and members of the team, if it is carried out correctly. Staff should feel that they have the opportunity to discuss changes to their monitoring without fear.

This blog was printed with permission.

About the Author: Dakota Murphey is a freelance writer based in the UK, specializing in Digital Trends in Business, Marketing, PR, Branding, Cybersecurity, Entrepreneurial Skills, and Company Growth. Having successfully contributed to a number of authoritative online resources, she has secured a platform to share her voice with like-minded professionals


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A Guide to Workplace Bullying

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Michael Metcalf, Author

Bullying is an all-too-common workplace issue. And if reports are correct, it seems to be on the rise.

Workplace bullying is one of the most damaging issues for any organization, as it can affect employee productivity, financial performance, and brand strength. On top of that, there’s no moral justification for letting it happen.

Employees deserve to work in comfortable environments of psychological safety. They should be able to relax, be themselves, and collaborate with others without fear or emotional upset.

Workplace Bullying Statistics in 2021

  • 1 in 4 UK workers have been bullied at work. The same amount also reported feeling left out in the workplace too.
  • One survey of 3,000 American adults found that workers across the age, gender, and education spectrum experience high levels of hostile behaviors at work.
  • 37% of Australian workers report having been cursed or yelled at in the workplace.
  • 1 in 5 American workers have been subjected to some form of verbal abuse, unwanted sexual attention, threats, or humiliating behavior at work.
  • 1 in 8 American workers have experienced direct verbal abuse or threats.
  • 8% of women aged 25-34 report having had unwanted sexual attention in the workplace during the last month.
  • Men aged 25-34 without a college degree report the highest levels of bullying, with 35% having experienced bullying at least once recently.
  • 1 out of 5 students in the US report being bullied, according to the National Center for Educational Statistics.
  • Workplace bullying is estimated to cost Australian businesses more than $6bn per year.

Why is it important to deal with workplace bullying?

It’s fairly easy to understand why this is important. Bullying is a workplace issue that can have tons of negative impacts on employees, management, company culture, and overall productivity.

If bullying becomes widespread enough, stories can leak out to the public and damage your brand – nobody wants to do business with a company of bullies, and not many people want to work in a place where bullies can get away with it.

Workplace bullying can have mild to severe impacts on victims, including:

  • low morale/loss of motivation
  • inability to concentrate or complete tasks
  • lowered productivity
  • social anxiety and avoiding people
  • anxiety and depression
  • stress, PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), and other mental health issues
  • reduced confidence and self-esteem
  • sleep problems
  • other consequences of stress like digestive issues and a weakened immune system
  • more frequent absences from work because of the above issues

If it’s obvious that one person is a bully, others might alter their behavior to avoid their attention. They might be reluctant to do anything distinctive that makes them stand out, or they could shy away in situations that require collaborative creativity. And even when bullies are dealt with by management, there’s a loss of productivity while they have to go through disciplinary procedures, maybe even getting suspended too.

Bullying can cause trust issues within your teams, too; not just directly between the bully and the bullied employee, but across the organization, fostering a culture of secrecy, gossip, and paranoia if left unchecked.

There’s also a measurable financial cost to bullying. If staff leave due to being bullied, there are the obvious costs of replacing them and training new staff. But there’s also the possibility of dealing with costly legal action if things get to a certain point, too. And higher incidences of sick leave and lower productivity will have a financial impact, as well.

No matter how competitive and high-pressure your work culture is, when positive aggression tips over into harmful bullying, you have to act quickly and decisively to stamp it out.

What should I do if I’m being bullied at work?

The first thing to do if you’re wondering how to deal with bullying at work is to tell someone about it.

It’s not always easy to do, of course. You might have a more reserved personality type, or you could have had a bad experience in the past when trusting someone with a personal problem.

But talking is almost always your best starting point, whether it’s with your line manager, a colleague, a close friend, or a family member. Getting it out of your head means you’re under less of a mental burden keeping it a secret, and talking it through will make you feel better. What’s more, you might end up getting some great advice on how to deal with the situation.

It’s also important to keep records of everything. Bullies can spread their deeds out into multiple small-scale transgressions, which individually, don’t seem much. It’s hard to complain about little things without feeling a bit silly – which is the reaction they’re looking for.

But if you note down details of each occurrence, you can build up a timeline that clearly illustrates a campaign of workplace harassment over time. You can take a report like this to management, presenting irrefutable evidence that you’re being victimized. If it’s noticeably affecting your job performance, any competent manager will want to intervene straight away.

Another option is to be proactive and confront the bully yourself – fight your corner.

You might think back to a parent telling you to “stand up for yourself” in the school playground when someone was bullying you – it’s easier said than done. Or how about “just ignore them” – well-meaning advice that’s nigh on impossible to follow when somebody really has it out for you. But if management isn’t being especially helpful, it might turn out to be the most effective strategy.

Instead of going in all guns blazing, you could take a less confrontational route.

You could try letting the bully know how their words or actions made you feel. They’ll already have a good idea, of course, if their actions are intentional, but by putting it all out there, it might cause a wave of guilt causing them to stop.

Try to figure out why they have a problem with you. Offer to lay it all out on the table, apologize for anything you might have done to upset them, and clear the air. This strategy won’t work for every situation and does take a bit of bravery, but it might be the quickest, most effective way to solve your bully problem. You might even end up becoming friends with them.

What are the signs that someone is being bullied at work?

There’s a bunch of different bullying at work signs that you should look out for. When coworkers are having problems with a bully, they might be reluctant to bring attention to it. So here are some of the signs to look out for:

  • They’re absent from work more often
  • They seem dissatisfied, downbeat, and unmotivated
  • They’re not performing so well at their job
  • They make excuses for avoiding work-related social events
  • You hear others gossiping about them

You might see one of these signs on its own, which doesn’t necessarily mean they’re being bullied. There might be a perfectly reasonable explanation.

But if you start noticing a couple of these signs together, something is probably going wrong for your coworker behind the scenes. Reach out, talk to them, and offer to help.

Final thoughts

Bullying and harassment in the workplace is a serious problem that needs to be addressed. Certain social movements from the 2010s onwards have given more people the confidence to speak up when they witness injustice in their organization, but there’s still a long way to go.

Tackling bullying takes a combined effort from coworkers and management. Workers need to be supported both with the presence of official procedures and the confidence that their complaints will be taken seriously.

If workplace bullying goes unchecked, the negative effects on employees, management, and the public reputation of the company can be enormous – so it’s something to deal with swiftly and judiciously.

Read the full article here.

This blog was printed with permission.

About the Author: Michael is a passionate writer and has written for other major publishing sites such as Trello, Unilever, and Timetastic. At F4S, he writes research-based articles and guides covering leadership, management, and everything involving workplace wellness.


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Nursing Workplace Violence

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While workplace violence in healthcare has been a persistent problem for many years, the rates have spiked during the COVID-19 pandemic. Nurses report escalating rates of COVID-related violence directed at them by frustrated and angry patients and their families.

A 2021 Workplace Health & Safety survey of registered nurses reports that 44% experienced physical violence at least once during the pandemic from patients, family members, or visitors. Over two thirds encountered verbal abuse at least once. RNs who provided direct care for patients with COVID-19 experienced more violence than nurses who did not care for these patients. Nurses also faced difficulty reporting these incidents to management.

The healthcare industry leads all other sectors for non-fatal workplace assaults. Within healthcare settings, violence in emergency departments has reached epidemic proportions during the pandemic. Emergency nurses are particularly vulnerable. Nearly 70 percent of emergency nurses report being hit or kicked at work.

Workplace violence injures healthcare professionals physically and psychologically, resulting in lost workdays, burnout, and turnover. The escalating rates of violence undermine efforts to provide quality patient care and hinder effective responses to combatting the COVID-19 virus.

The State of Workplace Violence Against Nurses

The rates of workplace violence have increased rapidly since the pandemic began. In August 2021 at a hospital in San Antonio, Texas, family members of COVID-19 patients physically and verbally abused healthcare workers for enforcing mask and visiting restrictions. Across the country, healthcare professions who advocate for vaccination and masking mandates have been subjected to online verbal abuse and threats of physical harm toward them or their family members.

Incidents of workplace violence are not restricted to the United States. A patient with COVID symptoms in Naples, Italy grew impatient waiting for treatment and spat at a doctor and nurse. His actions led to a shutdown of the entire ward and quarantine of all staff. In the United Kingdom, patients spat at and verbally abused staff who asked that they wear masks. In Mexico, healthcare workers accused of spreading the virus, have been assaulted and doused with bleach on public streets.

Nurses have become especially vulnerable to these kinds of physical and verbal assaults. Tina M. Baxter, an advanced practice registered nurse who provides consulting services for healthcare organizations, attorneys, and insurance professionals, has personally experienced workplace violence on several occasions.

She points out that “violence as a whole has increased during the pandemic and the lack of civil discourse in society, too often resorting to violence has become the first instinct instead of the last resort…Nurses are the most convenient target as we are with the patients the majority of the time. It is often the nurse who is tasked to enforce the rules about visitation, masking, and other mandates.”

A recent brief prepared by National Nurses United (NNU) support’s Baxter’s observations. NNU identifies multiple factors fueling COVID-related workplace violence. Nurses constantly face patients and families reacting with anger related to understaffing and increased wait times for care. They frequently deal with aggressive family members who refuse to adhere to visiting and masking requirements. The pandemic fatigue felt by many people and the misinformation spread by untrustworthy media and online outlets have also escalated the violent incidents.

The Influence of COVID on Rising Verbal and Physical Attacks

The recent Workplace Health & Safety survey connects COVID-related violence to the strained relations between nurses and patients. Over 67% of the nurses reported incidents of physical violence or verbal abuse between February and June 2020.

One in ten RNs indicated that reporting the violent incidents to management has become more difficult during the pandemic than before. Underreporting violence during the pandemic may be due to busy workloads, non-standardized reporting procedures, unclear definitions of what constitutes violence, and a perceived lack of management support.

Stressful conditions and more intense patient and family interactions are among the major forces behind the increased risks for aggression and violence toward nurses during the pandemic. Priscilla Grace Barnes, a registered nurse, personal trainer, and nutrition coach, explains that “part of being a nurse isn’t solely caring for the patient, it’s educating and communicating with the family. Many times this communication involves difficult situations around rules and regulations nurses have no control over. We are put in very tough situations.”

The pandemic may have helped spread the mistaken assumption that violence is part of the nursing profession. Many nurses believe that they have a responsibility to provide compassionate care even to those exhibiting violent behavior. As a result, nurses feel they must tolerate unsafe and dangerous conditions, rationalizing that the increase in violence stems directly from the anger and frustration experienced by patients and their families.

The Long-Term Impacts of Nurse Violence

A 2021 research study published in Healthcare reports that nurses who have experienced direct and indirect exposure to workplace violence are two to four times more likely to experience post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, depression, and burnout than nurses with no exposure.

According to the International Council of Nurses (ICN), rates of anxiety, trauma, and burnout have spiked dramatically since the onset of the pandemic. ICN data shows that the number of nurses reporting mental health distress has increased from 60% to 80% in many countries. Failure to address these mental health pressures will impact the already existing nursing shortage. ICN estimates a potential shortfall of 14 million nurses by 2030, which amounts to half the current nursing workforce.

Government, healthcare organizations, and nursing associations must address the pressing need for mental health support and preventive care for nurses. Barnes argues that healthcare facilities must promote psychological wellness to ensure nurse safety: “Nurses are caregivers. We live to serve. But caregivers have to be well. Working in a hospital I often felt like I was pouring into a cup that had holes in the bottom of it – no matter how much I gave, the cup was never full. This only leads to burnout of those who are the lifeline to the hospital – nurses.”

Despite the generally high regard for nurses held by the general public throughout the pandemic, negative public perceptions have also emerged about workplace safety and mental health challenges in the nursing profession. These unfavorable views may deter prospective nurses from entering the field at the time when they are most needed.

Preventing Workplace Violence Against Nurses: What Needs to Happen?

Even before the pandemic, healthcare workers experienced one of the highest rates of workplace violence compared to all other U.S. workers. According to a 2018 report by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of violent injuries has steadily increased since 2011. Because the problem has reached epidemic proportions, nurses, medical facilities, and government agencies must work together to develop concrete measures to prevent the escalation of workplace violence.

One of the first issues to address is the culture of acceptance about violence in nursing. Rhonda Collins, the chief nursing officer at Vocera Communications, a healthcare technology company, cautions that “workplace violence should not and does not ‘come with the territory’ of being a nurse. Healthcare leaders must aggressively act to address this epidemic by validating concerns and ensuring nurses are heard and respected when reporting violent acts.”

Addressing Workplace Violence During COVID and Beyond

The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the problem of escalating workplace violence in nursing. The healthcare industry and the nursing profession must embrace a cultural shift toward accountability and responsibility, providing a safe environment for all healthcare personnel, promoting positive patient care outcomes, and increasing the effectiveness of nursing practice.

Addressing the problem of workplace violence in nursing is in everyone’s interest. Nurses deserve to work in safe settings, performing their duties without fear of injury. Healthcare organizations will face greater nursing shortages due to injury or burnout, impacting the quality and cost of patient care. Effective workplace violence prevention initiatives must include transparent zero-tolerance policies, clear communication and procedures for incident reporting, and educational and support programs.

Read the full article including access to proactive approaches and training to prevent workplace violence here.

This blog is printed with permission.

About the Author: This article was written by Priscilla Barnes, Tina Baxter APRN GNP-BC and Rhonda Collins, DNP, RN, FAAN, and was reviewed by Elizabeth M. Clarke, FNP, MSN, RN, MSSW. Learn more about them here.


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Workforce Development Strategies: Make Your Staff Remarkable

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M. Alan Shapiro, Author

Investing in the right workforce development strategies is a win-win situation for employers and employees. When teams are competitive, productivity increases.

In today’s highly competitive global economy, companies need to continuously enhance their processes for better efficiency and stay on top of the competition. One of the ways to achieve peak productivity is through workforce development. 

Workforce development is an employment initiative that aims to maximize employees’ potentials and provide opportunities to handle problems effectively. It is an essential process in business development that can help create and retain a high-quality workforce. Generally, this involves a change in culture and systems to provide economic prosperity to individuals, businesses, and communities. 

In March 2020, employee retention rates reached an all-time low. This data should keep employers on their toes since poor employee retention can cost the company a lot of time and money. Workforce development strategies can help improve an employee’s attitude towards work and make them feel valued.

When a team is highly engaged at work, they get more motivated to work smarter and harder. All of these positive and mindful actions can contribute to a company’s success. After all, employees perform better when they are satisfied at work. 

The Benefits of Workforce Development

Workforce development positively affects both employers and employees making it a worthwhile and rewarding investment. The following outlines the benefits of pursuing this initiative:

  • Lower turnover rate

When an employee quits their job, it usually costs the company about a third of their annual salary. The process of recruiting and training new hires is expensive and can adversely affect productivity. So, a lower turnover rate can save the company a lot of time and resources.

  • Increased job satisfaction

When employees feel valued and trusted, they are more likely to stick with the company for the long haul. If they are presented with professional and personal growth opportunities, they would be more fired up to do their jobs and provide excellent outputs.

  • Improved productivity and operational efficiency

Workforce development strengthens an employee’s skills and allows them to reach their maximum potential. In addition, it aims to retain and ensure fulfillment for team members, encouraging them to make business operations smooth-sailing and highly productive.

  • Proactive problem resolution

Competent and proactive employees are every company’s best defense when problems arise. Better yet, if they can handle possible glitches even before they happen. Having a trained team that knows how to deal with disputes properly and proactively reassures vendors, clients, and customers. 

  • Enhanced innovation and creativity

A workplace that fosters leadership development and professional growth is an ideal environment for innovation and creative pursuits. Through workplace development activities, employees can effectively communicate their ideas and collaborate as a cohesive team.

An empowered team is an asset to the company and can significantly contribute to the success of any project. On the other hand, a workforce that feels neglected by their employer is likely to leave at the first sign of conflict. 

Workforce Development Strategies You Can Consider

The key to reaping the optimum benefits of workplace development is applying the following strategies:

  • Make it about learning and not training

For most employees, the word “mandatory training” may bring to mind sessions with monotonous lectures while cooped up in a cold conference room. To change this notion and inspire them to participate in learning activities, employers should present programs as opportunities to develop a new skill or interest. 

These learning opportunities may include online programs, mentorship, individualized performance reviews, and group brainstorm sessions. 

  • Let employees take the lead

Far too long, employees have taken a backseat when it comes to their professional development within the workplace. A vital strategy is to allow them to determine the scope and delivery method of the learning activities. Employers can also motivate them to participate by letting them learn at their own pace through accessible and easy-to-follow programs. 

With this tailored approach, they can focus on learning new skills in the most effective way possible. In addition, it can increase the team’s enthusiasm and engagement while curbing resentment towards management.

  • Choose updated delivery methods

To make self-directed learning a reality, the company can consider using a more modern way of delivering development opportunities. They have to keep up with the times and introduce methods that are straightforward yet stimulating. 

Since traditional learning methods are not working anymore, more organizations are now adopting online employee development programs. Not only does it allow employees the freedom to choose their schedules, but it also prevents the interruption of their workflow. Some online learning tools include resource banks, webinars, discussion forums, and self-paced eLearning modules. 

  • Enhance overall communication

As mentioned earlier, when employees are in tune with their company’s goals, they become more inspired to give their best efforts. There should be regular and transparent discussions about the employees’ goals and the company’s objectives to foster a supportive and collaborative working relationship. 

Employers must provide clear expectations and be transparent about the workforce development programs that they want to implement. They should let employees know that they are open to feedback and suggestions. Employees, on the other hand, can take this opportunity to inform their employers if the programs have made a significant impact on their performance or not. 

Staying Competitive in the Global Market

The right workforce development strategies can remedy low retention rates. When team members feel that their professional growth is nurtured, they are more likely to stay and grow together with the company.

Investing in continuous employee development is a win-win situation both for employees and employers. The workers can take advantage of learning and growth opportunities while the management can leverage their employees’ enhanced skills. Employees can also discover new skills and talents that can help them stay competitive in the workplace, which is also to the company’s benefit.
Having a highly-qualified and remarkable staff would significantly improve the organization’s productivity and efficiency, making them fierce competitors in the global economic arena. But to achieve this level of success, employers must remember that employees are the heart of any workforce development program. They must be given the freedom to choose how, where, and what to learn. 

This blog is printed with permission.


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